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Has The Copy Protection Been Broken For HD DVD & Blu-ray And Do You Care? Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 March 2007
Various online sources including RedHerring.com are reporting hackers have announced they have broken the AACS copy protection that is the backbone of the DRM system on both the Blu-ray and HD DVD disc formats. Microsoft, one of the major backers of AACS along with Intel and a number of studios, say these allegations aren’t true which leads to the question – does it really matter if AACS is broken at this stage of the format war, in the eyes of the people who will make or break these formats – the consumers? In today’s red-hot HDTV market, $3,000 gets you a pretty fantastic 60-inch plasma at Costco, and millions of consumers from coast to coast, in red states and blue states alike are buying into flat HDTV technology of varying sizes and price points. Despite the hype of Playstation 3 and the cost effective solution of the HD DVD drive on Xbox 360 - at this stage consumers have not yet started picking up HD players at anywhere near the same rate as they are buying HDTV sets which could be a trend that changes in 2007 or 2008. Factors for this slow adoption rate start with apprehension about the beta vs. VHS fight all over again between Blu-ray and HD DVD. What people don’t seem to understand is that their brand spanking new 1080p set can’t get 1080p video into them from their cable or satellite provider – they need one or both of the HD formats to realize the true potential of their HDTV. The cost of the HD players is another major issue. A $79 DVD player at any mass market retailer is easy to setup, plays quickly and a nice internal video processor or “scaler” can make a DVD look more like HDTV. Many of the new HD disc players have connectivity issues because of the flaws of HDMI connectivity or more specifically the flaw of the HDCP copy protection between the new players and a consumer’s HDTV or receiver. For the average consumer, the idea of a player that costs as much as 10 fold that of a standard DVD player is too much to swallow when the connection is complicated and unreliable.

At the end of the day - all DRMs will be broken. Hackers look at these kinds of projects as sport and in this case to crack a major convergence barrier like AACS is tantamount to hoisting the Stanley Cup over your head in utter triumph. In reality, to hack an HD DVD for a home theater enthusiast or movie buff is an exercise in stupidity. First off, you shouldn’t be doing it but more importantly – it is a total waste of time and money. When any HD DVD or Blu-ray title can show up in your mailbox thanks to NetFlix or Blockbuster – why would you invest in an ultra-expensive HD DVD or Blu-ray burner, the mega-computer needed to process the data (and strip out all of the goodies) just to copy a disc you could buy for $19.95. HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs are priced right and for those with players represent a very fair value. When the value is right, why steal the product and or service? It just doesn’t add up in terms of time, labor and overhead.

It was fear of copy protection that killed SACD and DVD-Audio in a similar format war only a few years ago. The way to mainstream success with one or both of these HD disc formats is to continue working on making the players better, the connectivity work flawlessly and get the prices lower. When soccer moms are dragging $199 players home in their Costco cart – we will know one or both of these players are making the needed inroads on the standard definition DVD format which is still the reigning champion. The studios also play a big role in making sure that they release the best, most HD-friendly titles for HD DVD and Blu-ray. In the DVD-Audio SACD battle there were far too few Dark Side of the Moon releases when you look at the dreck that many of the Indies and all of the majors tried to sell you.
Ultimately, the last part of the picture at this stage is the early adopter. Even if politically you feel that the format war is silly – you likely should get involved with one or both players if you can find a way to fit them into your system and budget. The fact is there is nothing a standard definition DVD can do to make a picture that looks like HD DVD or Blu-ray. Nothing, I say. Forget the DRM. Forget the HDMI and HDCP issues – there are work-arounds. Now is the time to enjoy the best video we have ever seen and now is the time to send a message to the studios that they should be looking to sell video and home theater enthusiasts movies in HD. DVD was a great ride for nearly a decade but Blu-ray and HD DVD are just that much better.

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